Of liaisons and hot dogs

Very interesting discussion about how my colleagues and I differ in our expectations of Select Board committee liaisons.  I must say, their view just doesn’t make any sense to me.  Here’s why:

Take the Public Transportation Committee, for example.  Take the oft-controversial subject of the “outreach” bus routes.  Imagine you have two Select Board members who might be liaisons to the PTC:  one who thinks the outreach bus routes are imperative and should be preserved – even expanded! – at all costs; and another who thinks that their low ridership numbers make them unjustifiable and a waste of money.

If you are to sanction participation and influence by a liaison, then you will get very different outcomes on the outreach bus route subject, depending which of my hypothetical Select Board members serves that committee.

If your policy is that the liaison is an information resource and conduit, then the personal preferences of either member won’t matter.

Under a policy of participation and influence, it leaves the committee and its work vulnerable to which Select Board member the committee gets as a liaison.  Is that fair?  Or appropriate?  And under such a policy, shouldn’t the Select Board (and voters!) pay more attention to how liaison assignments are made/chosen, and what each person’s sensibilities are? 

And wouldn’t that just open up a giant can of worms?  Strategic liaison assignments.  Blocking of liaison choices.  General influence peddling.  

You might think I am making too big a deal of this – and indeed, I may be.  But it gets to the heart of my strong belief that the Select Board’s only authority is working together in public as a body.  I think the whole point of this system of government is undermined when individual Select Board members act with individual authority. 

Now if I were the queen, it would be a whole different story…  (And I would be lonely as you all fled the vegetarian utopia of Stephanieland, where everything would be practical, logical and dull.  Just the way I like it. )


Here’s a sad story.  Remember the “Dog Gone Tasty” lunch cart license that the Select Board recently approved for Shawn Prak?  Nick Grabbe wrote a great article (requires registration) about the budding entrepreneur and his new enterprise.  For a couple of days, Shawn and his crew were out selling hot dogs in front of the Unitarian Meetinghouse, and business was good.  On the third day, the cart collapsed.  Shawn’s friend, Margaret Collins, told me that he was having a really hard time dealing with the guy who sold him the cart, and said Shawn is now without the cart and without his full $4,000 investment.  If you want to help, please call Margaret at 687-5186.


Neil said:

I completely agree with your analysis of the role of a Select Board liaison.

1. Communication between two parties or groups.
2. Co-operation, working together.
3. A relayer of information between two forces in an army or during war.

4. A tryst, romantic meeting.
5. (figuratively) An illicit sexual relationship or affair.
6. (linguistics) A sandhi in which a normally silent final consonant is pronounced when the next word begins with a vowel.

Communication, cooperation, a relayer of information. Did I say nag? I don't think I sad nag.

Richard Morse said:

This little disagreement gets us back to a problem in perception in town about the power and influence of Select Board. It meets once a week. The meetings, which seem to be THE place to discuss all kinds of town controversy, are televised. The elections for the seats get quite a bit of attention and the campaigns are increasingly expensive. It looks like a City Council and it sounds like a City Council and it gets the same attention in the press as a City Council.

But it's not. Instead it's a body of fairly limited powers. If that's in fact not what we want going forward, then we need to recognize that and do something about it. (I, for one, would prefer something else.)

The job of Select Board member in Amherst continues to seem to me to be quasi-judicial in nature. It's not a job for people who want to throw their weight around politically. It involves fairness and restraint and an ability to know what the opportunities, but also what the limits are. It requires a certain kind of temperament and self-discipline that not everyone has.

I have been struck in recent years as a Town Meeting member by what I perceive as SB's diminishing persuasive influence on Town Meeting debate and on the body's ultimate decisionmaking. I think that comes because of members who thought of themselves as political actors first rather than as people committed to develop impartial wisdom and probity about town government. I hope that is changing now.

Obviously, the plain meaning in operation of "liaison to a committee" is different than "member of a committee", a distinction that should be respected by Select Board members until some publicly discussed change is made. But this little disagreement is completely understandable, as SB members try to respond to what may be unrealistic public expectations for progress in town, progress that is driven by the Select Board.

ed cutting said:

As to Shawn Prak, isn't this a case for all the good liberals of Amherst to be, like, good liberals? It is damn poor form to rip off a blind man, and why isn't this being prosecuted? Is his loss in this regard any less than if some drunken UMass student broke his cart?

Yes, it would be nice if folks with more resources than I helped him out as he is a deserving person but why isn't anyone willing to help him go after the person who essentially stole from him?




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